I will be making some changes.
I will be making some changes.
Australia’s lesson for the world was the keynote speech given by George Megalogenis at the Governor’s Multicultural Awards recently. What was I doing there you ask? I nominated someone for an award; the person I nominated didn’t get one but I got an invitation from the Governor to attend the award presentation, so I came along with my camera.
I wasn’t there to cover it as media or anything, although in the past when I have volunteered or worked as a broadcaster I have attended some very grand occasions. Over the years I have interviewed some very interesting people in the course of producing radio or writing.
What I love about this event is the great embrace the Governor gives the Multicultural Community of South Australia.
The building is why I went to the event as well. I love the grounds and the building itself. I imagined the event would be smaller and inside; so I was really looking to get more shots of the inside of the building. This time around that was not to be, but I still enjoyed the views and met some great folk.
So my thanks go to His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC for the invitation. Congratulations to all the nominees and Award Winners!
I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my large family; we spent the time together checking things out at Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills and on the foreshore at Semaphore. After these very traditional local Western celebrations we spent some time at home marking the New Year with prayers and blessings for the people who have passed away before us in the process of time which is realised in ritual with my Nepali family.
Towards the end of 2016 things were seeming more awkward and strange than usual for just about everyone in the family pointing in both cultural directions; the issues that were playing on my mind included my elderly mother having surgery a couple of days before Christmas, my own mental health which can get hard to handle sometimes as well as the obvious caution on mind related to world politics and how it seems to be shifting in a darker unknown direction. A few years ago I wrote about the way things were not going to shift backwards. Then I took to creating images instead of words.
Certain people passing away through the year tended to direct my thoughts towards their work and fine tune my own creative thoughts I think. I also noticed how much time I spent inside the black box. I have been thinking deeply about a story I want to tell; in order to do so I must appreciate why I want to tell the story. Does it need to be told? Could I possibly convince anyone else to invest in the story? It amounts to a lot of thinking. What I call deep thinking. It is like meditation at times and very inert. At other times it can be like total blackout; visions. Am I starting to become unstable? How can I tell?
In order to shift my thinking along I tend to create aids designed to help me construct what it is I need to say; pictures. I like pictures at the moment. I like the open quality of a picture. You look, you see what you see. You make what you can of it. You can caption it, detail it from your own perspective. I like that.
Being ‘inside the black box’ to me means being in relationship with a camera. Understanding there is a captured moment composed of content and elements.
In 2016 a couple of people passed away whom I see as part of a team I was very briefly involved with, and before that they were both contributors to a team that developed my creative thinking when I was younger. Vale to them and anyone I am unaware of who has passed; a lot of people I’m sure.
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Writer: Jennifer Saunders (screenplay)
I have always been an admirer of Jennifer Saunders since seeing her for the first time in a Comic Strip Presents piece, and then many things after that. I think her writing and creative work on Absolutely Fabulous is genius. Great writing, so funny, so outrageous at times, Edina ‘Eddie’ Monsoon really was the character we had to get to know if we hadn’t already bumped into her somewhere on some scale in life. For me when Ab Fab came along the situation comedy experience exploded; Edina and her family were really happening and it was great to see some of that punk comic exuberance Jennifer Saunders had always had unleashed.
I watch the series when I feel the need to laugh; now I have Absolutely Fabulous The Movie with the deleted scenes and alternative ending and I am very happy.
I love this smooth ensemble working their magic on the big screen. The shift onto the screen has satisfied my desire to see more than the series could ever afford. Saunders creates a fun story for Eddie, her granddaughter Lola and best friend Patsy to go off and “Have some fun,” as Eddie puts it. Edina starts off perky with a book deal in her sights but she fails to proofread the dictated manuscript before taking a meeting with her would be Publisher and the day goes downhill rapidly.
Patsy stumbles upon some news that may help Edina spruce up her business and makes a call; unfortunately the call comes on speaker phone during a PR Lunch of the Month meeting. Eddie is vulnerable; not as vulnerable as Jon Hamm evidently, who makes an appearance as Claudia Bing’s newest celebrity in her PR stable. Seeing the Mad Men lead crowd surfing a party and coming face to face with Patsy Stone is an awkward moment, horribly funny as the blending of UK and USA television icons can be, in a good way. Australia’s own comic genius Barry Humphries AO CBE makes a big bruise on the film and along with the Kylie Minogue dancefloor version of Wheels On Fire, longtime theme of the show it is nice to see the overall international Australian blend.
Dame Edna stalked her way through Ally McBeal was it? Eddie and Pats managed to rifle their way through some episodes of Roseanne. The Trans Atlantic and Continental connections have been well established in the series over the years; the movie brings the payoff.
I think Saunders has provided a very satisfying personal development for Edina and some moments for us to share with her that are so much more intimate without the confines of a television studio and studio audience.
Where some television doesn’t translate so well into the cinema I think this has done so brilliantly. The tone, the pace, the ensemble feel; even a few cut-away moments that you’d expect to see on the television are beautifully edited in to capture a detail that tickles a smile if not a laugh.
Edina the character I know and love simply glows on the screen; she could sidle up to any one of the First Wives Club and knock them for a six; she opens up as much as ever while those around her are often so closed away. The dreaming moments we see, when she is surrounded by some fantasy are not so farfetched sometimes; she tries, she really does. There are some things Edina does very well, one of them being having fun.
We get a very good serve of Eddie and Pats having a mini-binge at home, we see them out partying, we get some family scenes that include long historical references from the series along with nuanced echoes of some favourite arguments.
There are lots of ‘names’ – actual names, not just the ‘likes of’ and happily from the series’ very heart, the world of fashion. It is the now fashion moment that gets featured rather than musicians or actors or politicians, the film could easily have become a parade of mindless cameos by people which wouldn’t have necessarily hit a mark. There are a lot of cameos in the film but I think they are all either seriously well played piss-takes as with Jerry Hall, or the one “it actor” Hamm, which also works in a necessarily awkward way.
I think this is where the film and Saunders have really excelled, staying true to the oeuvre that has already built the world wide recognition of the brand, staying on-point with the characters and exploring their world.
This is over all a bigger, classier experience on the cinema screen, even sightly awkward depending on whom you saw the film with during its release. I saw it during a matinee performance and there were long silences where I do not think the audience completely understood the references while at other times, often slapstick, they laughed along; lighting a fag after running out of breath jogging for example.
I think some people will inevitably find their way into the original series through the film and they will notice the difference between the two products but the characters all fit their medium well. In the context of studio recorded live comedy in front of an audience the original series is loud and raucous, compared to location shooting and filming sequences the nuances are subtle and asides more realistic, these things all work for me. I think if you compare Ed O’Neills performances between Married with Children and Modern Family you get the difference immediately in tone and delivery; likewise comparing Edina/Saunders and her whole ensemble between the series’ and the film.
When the series became available as scripts in print and on video to take home, I got them and wore them out. Then they became available on DVD so I got the collection. The film is on BluRay and DVD. I have it on BluRay and I have already watched it a few times; each time finding another gem, another moment that is a refresher from the past. It is like that feeling you get when you catch up with someone whom you have known over many years. There they are, in all their current glory. Love them or hate them you recognise them. Well I love Eddie and her crew, I think Saunders and her crew deserve a medal.
Recently going back and acting in front of a camera was enjoyable if not somewhat nerve wracking. I wasn’t expecting a call. One of my acting teachers Nick Enright always said, “Don’t sit by the phone expecting a call,” meaning you need to get out there and sell yourself, get involved, be creative and productive on your own behalf; back in the 1980s when Nick offered this advice things were different, no social media opportunities to promote oneself.
Over recent times if asked if it were true that I had been in a film I generally replied, “My last film was a silent movie,” because that’s fun and accurate.
In 2005 I played the Drunk Pedestrian in Dr Plonk (Rolf De Heer, 2007) a silent film. A fun experience with elements that nicely bookmarked my adventures in Australian Film up until that moment so if I had never been in another movie it would have been a nice tale to tell; how I had started with Money Movers (Bruce Beresford, 1978) and I think I met legendary stunt man Grant Page at Rolley Park Speedway on that shoot, and here he was overseeing my stunt in 2005 on Dr Plonk, very nice.
Rolf De Heer the Director was making the film by stealth on the streets of Adelaide, he’d had a thought that I’d be sitting holding a bottle on the steps of Parliament until Dr Plonk would blast past me knock me backwards as he did. Later as Dr Plonk passed me again I would be bandaged up as if in a cartoon. Rolf thought it would be amusing to bandage the bottle to my hand, as it was a fixture of the character, which all made sense in the crazy humorous world of Dr Plonk.
Grant Page was there to make sure I didn’t break my back falling backwards on the stone steps of Parliament and he was a little concerned because that bottle was a real beer bottle, not sugar glass, real glass. It was the point of some concern for Grant because I’d be swinging backwards onto stone steps and Grant did not want this bottle to smash in my hand, nor did I. Although I liked the element of danger because of the tensions a character carries; we’ve probably all seen the drunk who falls badly in order to save their bottle?
I have done some community announcement short films since 2005 but that was as myself or as a voice over so I don’t really count it as acting because it tends to draw from broadcasting. In 1987 at the Australian Film Television and Radio School I was one of a very lucky group of actors who were employed to work over several weeks with Ross McGregor and his students. We were working with the students to give them an insight into the way actors work. One of the added benefits of the job was being involved in day after day of workshops; another benefit was being there when Billy Marshall Stoneking was making a documentary with a First Nation indigenous artist and elder called Nose Peg. I spent a day working on some canvasses he was creating. Dot painting. I must remember to elaborate on that wonderful afternoon some time.
Yes, being part of the AFTRS course work was very much like attending acting school and at times like the National Playwrights Conferences or InterPlay the International Youth Playwrights Conference at The Performance Space and Sydney Opera House in 1986 where scripts were being developed every day and people would be tapping us actors on the shoulder asking for a few minutes or hours or days to work on something. Extremely fertile ground; Ross McGregor offered insights that were spot-on with really good examples to go along with them, and being at a film school he would screen the scene or the film he was talking about and illustrate the examples he was making. One I remember well is some great advice about acting on film and thinking. Using Sissey Spacek as his example in Bruce Beresford’s Crimes of the Heart (Bruce Beresford, 1986) a film with a stellar cast including Dianne Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, Ross asked us to watch what Spacek was thinking as she clutched her pearls for a moment in a head and shoulder shot.
He was drawing our attention to the actor thinking. It sounds obvious doesn’t it? An actor thinks in character. Someone may say, “Don’t over-think it,” and they may mean don’t fix onto something that blocks your natural flow or they may mean something else but you do need to be aware that as an actor in a frame that is part of a story you do need to have something going on in your head. Obvious as it sounds I think it is sound advice. There is nothing worse than seeing yourself gormless when you ought to have been on the ball.
When faced with the prospect of acting for film again I focused on my previous experiences acting on film professionally; for example, Bruce Beresford in 1978 explaining what we were doing in a scene and why he was slinging handfuls of pebbles around us at a speedway; it was ‘atmosphere’; or John Meillon having a bad day on location during The Dunera Boys, conversations with Holly Hunter, Simon Pegg and Sir Ian McKellen about working on stage as opposed to film; particularly McKellen’s approach, ‘trust that you are naturally doing what they want you to do, if you’re not it is to their advantage to correct you’. I enjoy acting. It was all I ever really wanted to do and for a while I had the best job an out of work actor could have possibly had, I produced community radio.
In the late 1970s Liza Minnelli performed in Adelaide at the Festival Theatre and I went along. After her concert I waited to see if it was humanly possible ‘Hello,’ and yes, it was. I was sixteen and had seen ‘New York New York’ in its original theatrical release and loved every moment of it. I played the album at home on the stereo. I exchanged pleasantries with Liza, held her hand, gave her a gift. She was fabulous. I kept my cool but I said something without thinking, I said, “You were in Judy’s woumb,” and she said, “Yes, I was!” which is the best reaction I could have wanted. I hadn’t thought about what I was saying before blurting it out at her and to this day I’m grateful she was so gracious; Liza even sent me a thank you note which I think burned in a house fire in 1989.
Before I ever left South Australia I had met celebrities; plenty of local ones who were involved in the television production scene around the metropolis of Adelaide. A few international ones because Adelaide is not so big and back in the day there was no need to have security guards if you were Debbie Harry wandering around the South Australian Museum or Noel Crombie having a coffee in a café. People were far more approachable and accessible.
When I’ve been the person in the spotlight sometimes I have had encounters with people who have been really awful, physically abusive a few times; the best way to be if you wish to make a point is clear and non abusive I think.
I say all this because by the time I was doing a stint in community radio, producing a weekly show, I had already met all sorts of really well accomplished people. I think part of coming from Adelaide was having the International Arts Festival and a semi-regular influx of engaging art to see, and the artists of course.
In relation to community radio, being interested in art meant there were always questions to ask; talking about art draws you closer to the various elements that make it, also having been involved in creating art, well it starts to become a specialist area after a while I think and you discover different ways of talking about it that help construct engaging entries into whatever art you are focusing on.